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Israeli Forces on Highest Alert in Standoff with Disengagement Protesters


Israeli security forces have been put on a high level of alert as they continue their standoff with tens of thousands of rightwing opponents of the government's plan to pull out of Gaza. The protesters have vowed to continue their march toward the southern Gaza settlements, later in the day.

Thousands of security forces are already at the site and thousands more could be sent, as they face off with thousands of Jewish settlers and their rightwing supporters at Kfar Maimon, a communal farm in southern Israel.

Police allowed protesters to camp there, overnight, but Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra says the demonstrators will not be allowed to continue their march toward Gaza. Speaking on Israel radio, the minister said the authorities had made it very clear that the protesters would not be allowed to head further west to Gaza.

Monday police and soldiers set up roadblocks and stopped busloads of protesters from reaching Netivot, where the protest march began.

March organizers condemned the police ban against their protest action and vowed to press on. Settler leader Bentsi Lieberman told Israel radio negotiations will continue with the police. Mr. Lieberman says the protesters will stay in Kfar Maimon during the day, but they will continue to seek permission to continue the march in the evening.

The protesters hope to reach the Gaza settlements and prevent the dismantling of the Jewish enclaves, scheduled to begin in one month.

The protest action comes amid heightened tensions in Gaza between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, following a sharp rise in violence over the past week. An Egyptian delegation has been in Gaza talking with militant leaders to try to restore a cease-fire Israel and the Palestinians agreed to, five months ago.

The Israeli military says it has lifted roadblocks in Gaza, which had cut the territory into three sections and restricted Palestinians from moving between them. The roadblocks were set up late last week, after militants launched a barrage of rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli targets.

Despite some measure of renewed calm in Gaza, sporadic violence continues. A gun battle erupted Tuesday morning between Hamas militants and Palestinian security forces in northern Gaza. And, in a village near the West Bank town, Jenin, Israeli security forces shot dead two suspected Palestinian militants.

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